My Low-Level Online War

Today is a day for confessions. While I place a very high premium on honesty, I have given myself leave to be “economical with the truth” in one particular area: when an online service starts asking for my personal data, I start obscuring the facts. For example, why does any social media platform need to ask me for my birth date AND a separate security question/answer? Therefore, I generally don’t provide my actual birth date. It’s not because of any foolishness about trying to hide my age. It’s because this age of identify theft and privacy incursions has me concerned about where I can legitimately draw the lines between my private data and the world.  So, my low-level war is about muddying the waters for marketers and others who lurk online and attempt to profile me for their financial gain or for other nefarious purposes.

To be honest, I’ve been a privacy hawk for years.  Shortly after we first married, I mortified my husband by refusing to provide my social security number to a shop checkout clerk who (improperly) demanded it to verify a credit card purchase.  I made a fuss and tied up a rather long line of people waiting to make their purchases.  And, I’ve kept making a fuss whenever someone other than the tax authorities has asked for this number.

I’ve since learned that I’m not the only one engaged in a guerrilla war.  Chris Brogan wrote today about why he gives April 1 as his birthday when, in fact, his actual birthday is a few days later.  Here’s how he explains it:

I don’t do this as an April Fools thing. I do it because I’ve chosen to tell all the databases of the Internet one fact that’s different from the real world. I do this to see where my data ends up.

Do you take any measures (no matter how quixotic) to protect your privacy online?  If so, do you have any tips you could pass on?  If not, why not?

[Photo Credit:  Keso]

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9 thoughts on “My Low-Level Online War

  • April 2, 2009 at 11:25 am
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    I am perhaps not as cautious as I could be where privacy is concerned. I generally think that if I was in a social situation, a holiday party or at a conference for example, what information would I be willing to discuss with a group of people I had met there? Name….sure. Birthday…the month and day if not the year are ok. Telephone number…I am giving out my Google Voice number recently, so it is likely I would be willing to give this to people. Social Security number…never. Income level…nope. Address…not specifically but I will say what town I live in. Email address…yep. Drivers Lic number…nope.

    I am concerned about privacy, but I am not so concerned that I give out incorrect information…at least not typically.

  • April 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm
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    Sean –

    Disclosing no more than you would at a social function is a useful rule of thumb. Although, it might useful to clarify that we mean at a social function while sober!

    – Mary

  • April 2, 2009 at 9:27 pm
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    I am often to be found at social functions downing my ice tea with a 1/2 finished beer at my side. Sobriety and I are good friends…but yes I do mean what one might share while sober.

  • April 3, 2009 at 9:21 am
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    From Oz Benamram:

    I do have a trick to share: I bought a domain name, and forward all
    email that goes to that domain to my inbox. Whenever I have to
    provide my email address on a website, I register as [that website
    url] @ [my domain].com. That's how I know who sells my data to whom…

    But since we have to honest today… there is another benefit to this
    method: if an email address is being spammed (could happen with or
    without bad intent of the site owner, buy viruses or Trojan hourse
    software), I can set a rule to close that one email address.

    I'm checking how KMAdvice@[my domain].com is doing 🙂

  • April 7, 2009 at 11:49 am
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    Absolutely. I do a fair bit of online purchasing, and have an alternate e-mail address, which in turn is based on completely fake information I've given hotmail. Same for PayPal, eBay, Craigslist. All fake and all different. I'm not sure any of this protects me, as eventually I have to give out my credit card number. But I like to think I'm limiting some of the true personal information.

  • April 8, 2009 at 10:53 pm
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    Thanks, Kathleen. I'm operating on the theory that every little bit of obfuscation helps in this regard — at least until they build super computers capable of seeing through our stratagems.

    – Mary

  • April 9, 2009 at 2:53 am
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    Thanks, Kathleen. I'm operating on the theory that every little bit of obfuscation helps in this regard — at least until they build super computers capable of seeing through our stratagems.

    – Mary

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